Last, but certainly not least, our Raider Ramble panel will take a look at the AFC North as we set sail towards the regular season! A division that has certainly given fans one of the best rivalry matchups in recent history in Ravens versus Steelers, along with one of the most intriguing and controversial teams in the Bengals. But perhaps after a seemly strong offseason, the Cleveland Browns are preparing to drag themselves from amongst the NFL’s basement dwellers and come into their own. Well, that may be a long shot as only time will tell.
One thing is for certain about this division; it seems no matter how good or bad each team is, when any two of them meet on a Sunday afternoon it is sure to be a brawl, sometimes literally. Let’s take a brief look at each team’s most notable offseason moves.
The Bengals stormed the 2017 NFL draft apparently looking for more offensive firepower, and they got it in the first two rounds drafting Washington’s speedster wide receiver John Ross and the highly talented ( and of course highly controversial because what else do we expect from the Bengals ) Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon. However, the Bengals also lost two key offensive linemen in Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler.
The Browns did not fool around at the 2017 draft when they had the number one overall pick, drafting the player whom many said was the best player in the entire draft; defensive end Myles Garrett. Several picks later the Browns also landed the very talented and jack-of-all-trades Michigan product Jabrill Peppers. Stealing the Bengals offensive guard Kevin Zeitler was also a savvy move on the part of the front office. However, the loss of the apparent up and coming quarterback-turned-receiver Tyrelle Pryor may prove to be a costly mistake.
The Ravens finished with yet another lackluster record in 2016 going 8-8. Flacco’s mediocre play does not warrant the kind of pay the Ravens are dishing out to him, but it is partially due to the fact Flacco does not have the weapons he used to have at receiver. However the Ravens seem to be more concerned with what’s happening on the other side of the ball as they drafted corner, linebacker, and defensive tackle in rounds one, two, and three respectively. Ravens also added corner Brandon Carr through free agency. Ravens also lost offensive tackle Ricky Wagner and corner Lardarius Webb.
The Steelers seem to reload continually. However, it will prove to be interesting to see what happens next offseason as “Big Ben” seems to be winding down his NFL career. Also intriguing was Pittsburgh’s drafting of Pittsburg running back James Conner in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft. Perhaps the Steelers are already looking to the post-Bell days? The Steelers also picked up big name linebacker T.J. Watt in the first round of the draft. Aging running back DeAngelo Williams was released, and anchor linebacker Lawrence Timmons joined the Dolphins.
Micah Schneidermann: I do not see any of these teams rivaling the Steeler’s roster this season. Now with Flacco’s injury, I believe the Steelers take the division pretty handily. The Bengals could perhaps make a push if Joe Mixon becomes what I think he could be which is one of the best running backs in the NFL. If the Bengals backfield catches fire and takes the heat off of Andy Dalton, they have the best chance of dethroning the Steelers. I believe the Browns win five games this season and Myles Garrett will be a one man wrecking crew for the Brown’s defense.
Give me the Steelers at 11-5, Bengals at 9-7, Ravens at 8-8, and Browns at 5-11.
Philip Robinson III: The Steelers were the cream of the crop and won the division handily last season. While both Cincinnati and Baltimore are the usual challengers for the crown, Cleveland is going to sneak up on a lot of teams this year. With that said, the Steelers are still the “true kings of the North” and winter is coming.
From top to bottom, the Steelers employ arguably the best wide receiving corps in the league. Led by Antonio Brown, the best wide receiver in the game under six feet tall. A battle for the number two and three spots between the “uber-talented” Bryant and the kid everyone loves out of USC, Smith-Schuster. Jessie James is still a relative unknown at the tight end position, but with the departure of Ladarius Green, it appears he will be the guy. Then the youngest quarterback ever to win a super bowl, Ben Roethlisberger, is slinging the football all over the field or handing it to Le’Veon Bell. A case can be made for saying Bell is one of the best players from scrimmage in the league. His hands are superb for any pass catcher let alone a running back. While he has some injury concerns, the ACC leading rushing touchdowns leader James Conner from the University of Pittsburgh is backing him up.
The defense is not quite the Steel Curtain of yesteryear. More than slightly vulnerable to the run last season the defense needs that “good ol” steel toughness and the two second-year corners need to continue their evolution into becoming stable and reliable. TJ Watt is going to be a player to watch, with a tremendous pedigree and large shoes to fill. Watt is the younger brother of “mega-stud” JJ Watt of the Houston Texans. He and the meanest looking man in the league James Harrison will be the edge setters for the “Blitzburgh” attack. As long as the defense is not historically bad which there is no implication that it will, this offense is good enough to win the division by itself. Pittsburgh Steelers win the division.
Christopher Engelage: Pittsburgh Steelers. The AFC North has been a staple of NFL postseason play in recent years, as the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, and Cincinnati Bengals all make appearances on a consistent basis. All the while the Cleveland Browns have seemingly kept a tight hold on last place year after year.
This division in 2017, will again be a three team race, that will see the Steelers reign on top. Led by a savvy veteran quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, a lethal running back in Le’Veon Bell who can turn any play into points and arguably the league’s most talented receiver Antonio Brown, the offense alone will give opponents fits. With an improving defense that features 39-year old linebacker James Harrison, along with young gun linebackers in Ryan Shazier and TJ Watt, this defense will show shades of the ‘Steel Curtain’ glory days.